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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Public Library Board has adopted a formal “book challenge” policy in the event that someone asks to have a book removed from the library’s collection as an act of censorship.
Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, director of the Colfax Public Library, said at the Colfax Public Library Board’s May 17 meeting she had learned from other library directors that there have been challenges to books by patrons and that the Phillips Public Library in Phillips, Wisconsin, had recently received challenges on 30 books.
Children’s books are usually the kinds of books that are challenged, she said.
Bragg-Hurlburt said she wanted to have a formal policy that lays out a deliberate process so the process is “not rushed” and is documented.
According to the policy, the first step in the process for a complaint about a book or a movie is to bring the complaint to the library director for discussion.
If the discussion with the library director does not resolve the issue, then the library director will offer the person who is complaining about the book or movie a “request for consideration” form.
After the form has been filled out and handed back to the library director, then a formal complaint has officially been submitted.
The library director will then re-examine the material and the library’s collection development policy, and from there, will determine whether the material should be kept in the collection.
The library director’s decision about the material will be communicated in a written letter to the person who submitted the complaint.
If the person who submitted the complaint wishes to appeal the library director’s decision, the library board will review the decision following a three-part process.
The library board will be notified and a hearing will be scheduled as either part of a regular library board meeting or as a special meeting, but the library board will be given at least ten days’ notice of the hearing, according to the policy.
Since public libraries are funded by taxpayer dollars, meetings of the public library board are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Laws, including the process for posting the meeting notifications.
The meeting in which the library board would review the complaint about a book or a movie would be an open meeting that would be open to the public.
According to the policy, at the meeting where the library board will review the book or movie, the person who has submitted the complaint will have an opportunity to speak to the library board in person.
Members of the public also will be allowed three minutes each to state their opinions either for or against the material.
The library board will vote on whether to remove the material from the library’s collection at the next meeting, after board members have had sufficient time to consider the issues, read or view the material in question, and have had time to review the collection development policy.
A representative for the library board will announce the final decision. A majority vote of the library board will be required to remove material from the library’s collection or to otherwise restrict access to the material.
The principles of the Library Bill of Rights should be reiterated, and an explanation of how the library board’s decision is in accordance with those principles should be given.
A brief statement of the reason for the decision should also be given, such as “we have concluded that the material meets our selection criteria and will be retained without restriction,” according to the policy.
Gary Stene, a trustee on the Colfax Village Board, a supervisor on the Dunn County Board, and the representative on the library board for both the village board and the county board, emphasized that the entire process concerning a book challenge should be conducted in an open meeting.
Krista Ottinger, president of the library board, wondered if there should be a timeline for each step in the process.
Library board members ultimately decided there should be no timeline because there could be factors that were not under their control.
For example, if there could be no meeting of the library board for two weeks because of a lack of a quorum due to work commitments or other meeting schedules or because people were out of town for various reasons, and the policy said the meeting would be held in 10 days, then the library board would be out of compliance with the policy.
More rules could create more problems with meeting deadlines, Stene commented.
Bragg-Hurlburt said she had written the policy based on reference material that was available from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Nancy Baumgartner, library board member, asked Bragg-Hurlburt if the library director was aware of specific books that had been challenged at the Phillips Public Library.
Bragg-Hurlburt said she was not aware of specific titles but that they were children’s books, such as books about children with two same-sex parents.
Book censorship is not new, Bragg-Hurlburt said.
Libraries have been dealing with the idea that what people read cannot be censored since 1948, she said.
The Colfax Public Library Board unanimously approved the book challenge policy.